post-9/11 chill is undermining
struggles for social justice worldwide
by Aziz Choudry
excerpted from the New Internationalist
magazine, March 2005
... the War on Terror is the new cloak
of impunity protecting governments from their human rights critics
and chilling dissent of many kinds. For 'free traders' in particular,
the 9/11 attacks came at an opportune time: neoliberal institutions
like the IMF, World Bank and WTO were under sustained siege worldwide
from social movements for their support of a destructive development
model and their lack of democracy. On 24 September 2001 US Trade
Representative Robert Zoellick
E set the tone in a speech that expanded
the post-9/11 McCarthyism to global justice activists: 'Terrorists
hate the ideas America has championed around the world. It is
inevitable that people will wonder if there are intellectual connections
with others who have turned to violence to attack international
finance, globalization and the United States.'
Roots of repression
It's an old game - expanding the powers
of state police, security and intelligence agencies. Well before
9/11 the FBI was pressuring countries to adopt its requirements
for surveillance of electronic communications. Governments shared
intelligence databases of activists to stop people at borders
prior to major international summits. But with 9/11 as pretext,
the powers of surveillance, detention and arrest have been expanded
with an utter contempt for the democratic rights and values which
governments - from Washington to Pretoria - claim to uphold. Some
definitions of 'terrorist' are so broad that they can be stretched
to include anything from strikes to land occupations.
In 2002 Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
pronounced: 'The War on Terrorism does not distinguish between
ordinary terrorists and those espousing a political ideology.'
She clearly threatened trade unions - 'those who terrorize factories
that provide jobs'. She went on to smear progressive movements
in the Philippines as 'terrorists and criminals hiding behind
the veil of human rights advocacies or other seemingly deceptively
legitimate political advocacies'. Elmer Labog, SecretaryGeneral
of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) trade union centre, responded:
'Arroyo is bringing back to life the ghosts of Martial Law.'
Whether it's Cold War reds under the bed,
or anarchists or antiglobalization activists, or a mindset that
views every Muslim as a potential terrorist, the 'enemy' may change
but the song remains the same, only sung more loudly. Surveillance
and repression against dissenters and those communities constructed
as 'other' have always propped up the prevailing state religion.
It comes with the territory. The police mindset and operational
culture equates challenges to prevailing orthodoxies as criminal
activity. The militarization of protests and public spaces with
a growing 'less-than-lethal' armoury of chemical agents and stun
guns is % magnified in the post-9/11 world.
After a brutal police assault on a non-violent
antiwar protest in Oakland, California, Mike Van Winkle of the
state-sponsored California Anti-Terrorist Information b Center
proclaimed: 'If you have a ' group protesting a war where the
cause that's being fought against is international terrorism...
You can almost argue that a protest against such a war is a terrorist
act.' It's worth noting that millions of dollars in funding for
the brutal security crackdowns at the November 2003 Miami FTAA
summit and for the 2004 G8 summit in Georgia came from a US Congress
Iraq appropriations bill.
Chile's Government, meanwhile, has revised
an old 1984 anti-terror law dating from the brutal Pinochet era
and used it against Mapuche activists - indigenous peoples resisting
not only forestry corporations' occupation of their ancestral
lands but also the plantation monoculture of pine and eucalyptus
for export that they seek to introduce. Under this 'revised' law,
charges can be brought by anyone, the accused can be held without
trial for months, and anonymous witnesses and secret evidence
can be introduced at trial. The minimum sentence for terrorism
is 10 years. Mapuche activists have been charged with terrorism
for allegedly burning areas of plantation forest, logging trucks
and equipment. Arson - a crime against property, not life, liberty
or physical integrity - is defined as a terrorist crime. Some
are already serving jail terms. A recent high-profile case was
thrown out but the state has already appealed.
New Zealand/Aotearoa has a history of
break-ins, wiretaps and surveillance of indigenous activists.
Several years ago, Maori lawyer/activist Annette Sykes discovered
her phones had been tapped and a location-tracing device placed
in her car. In November 2004 claims about the NZSIS 'Operation
Leaf, which spied on a range of Maori organizations and individuals,
hit the headlines and are now subject to an inquiry.
A 2003 Canadian Security Intelligence
Service (CSIS) report claimed that: 'Canada is confronted by domestic
terrorism issues related to aboriginal rights, white supremacists,
sovereignty, animal rights, the environment and anti-globalization.'
Native land occupations, forestry and fishing disputes have been
met with massive police and military force, time and time again
Gustafsen Lake, Kanehsatake. Burnt Church, the September 2002
raids on indigenous activists on Vancouver Island by INSET (the
Integrated National Security Enforcement Team) - the list goes
on and on
Detention without charge. Roundups. Disappearances.
Security certificates. A climate of fear based on ignorance and
suspicion. Are we back in Pinochet's Chile? Marcos's Manila? Or
in the modern-day US and Canada? The detention of immigrants,
immigration restrictions, deportations, low-intensity warfare
against many communities of colour and the anti-Muslim flavour
of it all - again the roots go back long before 11 September 2001.
To campaign effectively against the erosion of 'civil liberties'
we must acknowledge that, for many communities, such rights have
always been tenuous at best. Subhash Kateel, an organizer with
the New York-based Families for Freedom, points out: 'It is important
for people to understand that what is happening is based on the
development of apartheid through immigration policies that distinguish
citizens from both legal and illegal noncitizens.'
Democracy. Freedom. Tell that to the 24
mainly Pakistani students arrested, detained and deported under
unsubstantiated terrorism allegations in Toronto in 2003. Or to
Montrealer Adil Charkaoui, jailed, like several other Muslim men,
on secret CSJS evidence. Or to Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian
detained in the US on a stopover and deported - not to Canada,
but to Syria, where he was jailed and tortured for a year.
Many in the global justice movement in
the North have expressed outrage about new anti-terror legislation
and the criminalization of dissent. Others are concerned at the
effects of the post-9/11 chill. Fear of direct action and being
'too critical' is in the air. But movements which have hitherto
paid little attention to immigration injustices and the criminalization
of indigenous resistance are now taking notice. New opportunities
have opened up to link campaigns against the racialization of
immigration and security policies with those against neoliberalism
We must rise to the challenge of building
alliances with communities which have long been on the frontlines
of struggles for justice - and which are easy targets in any state
Aziz Choudry is an activist and writer
from New Zealand /Aotearoa currently based in Montreal, Canada.
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